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What is a Cellulitis Abscess?

A cellulitis abscess is a painful, pus-filled infection beneath the skin, often stemming from bacteria entering through a break in the skin. Accompanied by swelling and redness, it's a condition that requires medical attention. Intrigued by how this infection develops and the treatments available? Discover the visual journey of a cellulitis abscess and learn how to protect your health. What will you uncover?
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A cellulitis abscess is a collection of infectious material under the skin that cannot drain, leading to the formation of a palpable lump. It is the result of untreated or poorly managed cellulitis. Eventually, the collection of material will rupture on its own, draining to the surface and potentially creating a large wound. Ideally, treatment should be provided before this occurs, so it can be safely drained and treated to limit risks for the patient and minimize scarring. A general practitioner can often provide the necessary treatment for a patient.

Cellulitis is an infection just below the surface of the skin caused by bacteria colonizing the connective tissue in the layers of skin and underlying muscle. These bacteria enter the site through small wounds, including minor cuts and scratches. As the bacteria breed, the site becomes hot, swollen, and red, and it is possible to develop a cellulitis abscess as the infection progresses.

Antibiotics may be required to treat a cellulitis abscess.
Antibiotics may be required to treat a cellulitis abscess.

The abscess will contain a collection of pus, waste products from bacteria, dead bacteria and skin cells, and other matter. It can be hard to the touch and will usually cause discomfort for the patient. One risk with an abscess is the possibility that it will penetrate more deeply into the body before it ruptures, allowing the bacteria to spread into locations they could not reach before. Abscesses can also cause significant scarring when they rupture on their own, as the pocket will create a deep pit in the patient's skin, as well as leaving an open wound that can be vulnerable to infection.

Cellulitis may develop as a result of small wounds.
Cellulitis may develop as a result of small wounds.

When a patient goes to the doctor for a cellulitis abscess, the doctor will typically recommend draining and cleaning the abscess to remove the contents and address the infection. Drains may be left in place to allow the pocket to continue draining while the patient takes a course of antibiotics to kill the infectious bacteria. Once the cellulitis is resolved and the abscess appears to be healing, the drains can be withdrawn to allow the skin to heal completely.

Diabetics and others with chronic skin ulcers are at an increased risk of cellulitis.
Diabetics and others with chronic skin ulcers are at an increased risk of cellulitis.

Patients who notice things like reddening under the skin, tenderness, and hot spots on their skin should seek medical attention. These can all be signs of cellulitis, and if the infection is not treated, potential complications include bacteremia and organ damage caused by a rampant infection. Prompt treatment can help patients avoid an unpleasant cellulitis abscess, as well as these more serious complications of infection.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

donasmrs

My dog got this after getting scratched by a cat he was chasing. It was horrible! The poor thing had a baseball sized swelling on his head.

The vet had to put her on three different antibiotics before the infection cleared. With each antibiotic, the swelling reduced and then returned. That was one stubborn infection!

I also put hot compresses on the swelling which helped the pus come to the top for it to be drained.

I wouldn't wish this infection on anyone, animal or human! It really is frustrating.

ZipLine

@fBoyle-- I have heard of people using natural antibacterial foods like raw garlic and manuka honey to treat infections from the inside out. But I have no idea if it would be effective as an abscess treatment.

fBoyle

Are there any effective home remedies for cellulitis abscesses?

I had a cellulitis skin infection on my leg. It slowly swelled up, became red and hot. My doctor said it's an abscess, drained it and put me on antibiotics. It seemed to heal nicely and disappeared after several weeks.

However, it has been a few months since then I can feel it happening again on the same leg. It's not completely swollen yet but has started to look red.

I don't want to go through draining and another course of antibiotics if I don't have to. Aren't there any natural remedies that can treat this without a visit to the doctor's office?

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    • Antibiotics may be required to treat a cellulitis abscess.
      By: Alliance
      Antibiotics may be required to treat a cellulitis abscess.
    • Cellulitis may develop as a result of small wounds.
      By: rufar
      Cellulitis may develop as a result of small wounds.
    • Diabetics and others with chronic skin ulcers are at an increased risk of cellulitis.
      By: schankz
      Diabetics and others with chronic skin ulcers are at an increased risk of cellulitis.